I peeked past the barely-open door at a little girl sitting cross-legged on a pink bedspread, paging through a picture book. A small child like I’d seen at the campsite, who was just old enough to run around and get into everything. Her hair and skin were tightly curled, dark black hair pulled up on her head in two buns tied with pink ribbons. Skin the color of that glorious candy they’d sometimes dropped on the ground, chocolate, I think they called it, and beautiful eyes the same shade.
Gretchen herded us into the room, and we darted behind a pile of stuffed animals. “Okay, this is the first time Eve will be working with a child. Eve, veilrings only work on humans after they are five years old or so. So this little girl will be able to see your clothing, and your weapon. If you invoke your veilring, she’ll be able to understand what you say.”
Dichall gestured toward the little girl with his chin. “Let me talk to her first, but keep your eyes open. There could be anything in here with us, and it might try to escape, or attack, when it sees Councilmice.”
We leapt onto the bed. The little girl glanced up at us and her jaw dropped. Dichall stepped forward. “Hello.”
“You’re mice! You can talk!”
“My name is Dichall, and this is Gretchen, and Eve. It’s nice to meet you.” As threatening as his voice was with the cat, he sounded sweet and trustworthy with this little girl.
“Hi! Do you want to play with me?”
“That sounds fun!” Dichall sounded so enthusiastic, that I thought for a moment he would abandon the mission to do so. “Maybe in a little bit. What’s your name?”
“All right, Gina. Lolabelle told me that you haven’t been feeling well.”
Gina looked down but didn’t answer. Gretchen and I kept our attention on the rest of the room, sure something awful was going to jump out at us.
Dichall gestured with his nose at her painting set. “Do you like to finger paint?”
“You said you wanted to play with us. Does anybody else play with you?”
“I play with Lolabelle. And I try to play with Sophie, but she’s a grumpy cat.”
“We gathered,” I said, but forgot to invoke my veilring, so Gina only heard a squeak.
Gretchen gave me a look, then took a step toward Gina. “Anybody else? Anybody your parents can’t see?”
Gina scrunched her brow and didn’t answer. It looked like the question confused her.
Gretchen got out her scranch dust and turned to us. “If she can’t see it, then it’s probably an essence, not a physical creature.”
I heard Lolabelle’s nails clicking on the wood outside the door, and the deeper sounds of adult human footsteps. “We need to hide!” Veilrings made us look to adults like we were doing normal mouse things, and hid our clothing and possessions, but it didn’t make us invisible. And humans react badly to mice on their children’s beds, with clothing or without.
Dichall turned back to Gina. “You talk to your parents, and we’ll come out and play when they leave. Okay?”
Gina nodded, eyes wide, and we leapt inside a box of wooden blocks just as the door opened.
Lolabelle immediately approached the box and stuck in her sniffing nose.
“Will you get out of here!” I whispered, “You’ll give us away!”
Lolabelle turned away without a word, thank goodness. Anything she’d said to us would have sounded like barking to the adults, and they’d want to investigate why their dog was barking into the toy box.
“Honey, are you ready to go over to Branden’s house?”
I peeked from behind a block to see the mother sitting next to Gina on the bed.
“Mommy, I was talking to the mice.”
I felt a tug on my cloak. It was Gretchen. She mouthed get back!
I did. I kept looking, though.
The father smiled. “Looks like her imagination is coming back, anyway.”
The mother didn’t look convinced. “Gina, are there mice in here?”
I glanced over to Gretchen, who was invoking a flyknocker in her paws.
“Yes, they’re in the toy box!” Gina pointed right at us. The parents looked at each other as Gretchen’s undead fly flew out of her hands and out the bedroom door.
I jerked my head back behind the blocks and glanced around, looking for an escape route that wasn’t there. I heard the parents coming toward us.
And then, there was a knock at the door.
“Pizza delivery of pizza. Pizza!” Another knocking. “Pizza has been delivered to this apartment!” The English was a little awkward, but the flyknocker sounded just like a human talking from behind a door. Lolabelle went bananas, barking and running toward the door. Good girl.
The woman looked startled. “Did you order pizza?” The husband just sighed heavily as they left the room. We heard the parents open the front door in the other room, and a muffled “Hello?”
Gretchen leapt out of the box. “We have to use the scranch dust now. The essence is probably already spooked!” She opened the scranch dust and invoked it. “There it is.” The room’s colours went wild. And there it was.
Extending from the little girl’s spine was a wispy, shimmering… thing… like a millipede, but as wide as my tail was long, with squirming, human-like legs all down either side. The ghost-like faerie-spirit waved in the air as though pushed by gentle currents.
As Gretchen started opening the acorn trap, the creature worked itself out of Gina’s back, making the little girl arch and freeze. Once loose, it zipped out of the room as if thrown. It was about four mice long, and I watched, agape, as it flew over us.
“After it!” Gretchen shouted, and we ran out into the hallway.
Where the adults probably were.
We dashed around a corner just as the adults were giving up on finding their phantom pizza man. The woman of the household looked down at us, saw three mice, and screamed.
“Ignore them!” Gretchen was running on all fours for speed. “If it gets away now, we’ll never catch it!”
We raced after the spirit into the living room, where it flew straight toward the cat.
Sophie emitted a howling meow of terror as she leapt off the top of the comfy chair and headed right toward us, a ball of frantic black fur, teeth, and claws.
We scattered with three squeaks.
Lolabelle must have thought the cat was after us. She charged Sophie, barking wildly (as only a terrier can do), and the two turned into a cacophony of noise, teeth, and claws in the middle of the living room carpet.
“Lolabelle! Sophie! Stop that!” Both adults frantically tried to drag their pets apart.
Grateful for the distraction, we hid behind the couch. The spirit, made solid by the scranch dust, could not pass through the walls and was banging on the windowpane like an insect trying to get out.
Not so fast.
Gretchen, panting, took her acorn trap into her hands, pulled the top off, and invoked it. With a whoosh, the faerie slammed into the acorn. Gretchen closed the top and screwed it once, invoking the enchanted nut once again to commit the seal.
The faerie was trapped.
After the adults finally calmed down and cleared the room, we asked Lolabelle if she could get us out of there.
“I get walked in about six hours. You can sneak out then.”
We said fine, happy for a break, and took a nap behind some reference books high on a shelf, the three of us snuggled together for warmth, with the acorn trap safely in Gretchen’s arms. Every once in a while, it shuddered as the essence inside tried to escape.
As I drifted into sleep, I thought of the spirit in there, and what it would be like to be stuck in an acorn forever.
It didn’t make for pleasant dreams.